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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Camino Francés vs. the Camino Primitivo

One last Camino post, more than two months post-Camino, here we go! 

Okay, “versus” is in the title, but it’s not really a competition. When most people talk about “the” Camino or first hear about the pilgrimage, they are referring to the Camino Francés, the most popular Camino. However, as you learn more about the Camino, and maybe after you walk your first one, you realize that there are many paths to Santiago. This post discusses some of the advantages of the two Caminos that I know. 

The Camino Francés is the yellow route and the Primitivo is purple.  

The Camino Francés
  • At just over 800 kilometers the Camino Francés is the longer of these two options. Most pilgrims take around 30 days to do the whole thing and this gives your body time to adjust to the rhythm of walking everyday and your brain time to get out of the monkey mind of your “normal” life and settle into the Camino. I met many pilgrims who were just doing the last 100 k, from Sarria to Santiago and this really doesn’t give bodies time to adjust or allow minds to disconnect. Doing the entire Francés provides the space and time to experience a transformation. Physically stronger, mentally tougher and spiritually transformed? It could all happen by the time you arrive in Santiago! 
  • The Francés has the most services (restaurants, cafes, bars, a variety of accommodation options, stores and pharmacies). If you are thinking of your first Camino, unless you have a lot of experience backpacking, the ease of how services are organized on the French Route will help you transition into Camino life. Remember, many of these towns exist because of and for the steady stream of pilgrims over hundreds of years!A restaurant, shop and vending machine just outside of Pamplona.  
  • This route also offers the most options as far as breaking up the stages and really walking your own Camino. Since it is the most trafficked, most days you can easily walk more or less than what the guidebook says, thus really listening to your body and doing your personal Camino. My first albergue in St. Jean. The French route offers hostels, pensions, small hotels and even luxurious accommodation options. 
The Camino Primitivo 
  • The natural landscapes on the Primitivo are stunning. The other routes have some gorgeous sections, too, but the one-week flat and straight meseta of the Francés can become a bit tedious and there is definitely less asphalt on the Primitivo. The Hospitales route on the Primitivo, probably the most famous stage. No asphalt here. 
  • Most people that I met on the Primitivo had already done another Camino and were back for more. Some people feel that the French route’s popularity has caused the quality of the pilgrimage to suffer. While I still believe the French route is very special, it is true that there are a lot of Camino tourists. If you are looking for a “purer” experience, the Primitivo offers less crowds, kindred pilgrim companions and some quality albergue experiences. Sharing stories at bedtime in Bodenaya. 
  • If you want to level-up your Camino experience, then this route is going to challenge you. The stages tend to be longer and you are walkling up and over the mountains. The steep ups and downs are not for everyone! Physically, my hardest days were here (but also my happiest to arrive and some of my best sleeps). Friends and fellow pilgrims encourage you to keep going and look out for each other. 
Which Camino?
So, how do you know which Camino to do? Just like which items will end up in your backpack, it’s a personal decision. A few things to keep in mind are: the amount of time you have, previous training/experience outdoors, how busy/social you’d prefer the trail to be and presence of services that you are comfortable with. 

All offer physical and mental challenges, some amazing scenery, delicious regional cuisine and wine, unforgettable fellow pilgrims and the endpoint, that special city, Santiago... unless you keep walking to the coast, adding another little Camino to your route. ;)

My answer? Keep coming back until I’ve experienced them all. I’ve got a good rhythm going so far with half of the Francés in 2016 and the Francés, Primitivo and Coastal routes in 2017. Join me on the Portugués in 2018?!?

Camino forever!

Photo credit: M from South Korea. Taken in Itero De la Vega (on the Camino Francés).

Thursday, November 2, 2017

So, what’s in that backpack?

A lot of people have asked me what I packed, so this post is for them! 

She’s in the background of many of my photos, or maybe you just see her straps, but what exactly is in my dear traveling companion?!?

The Basics:
Deuter 24 liter backpack!
2 liter platypus (depending on the distance between villages I usually keep about 1 liter of water in it, on the Primitivo 1.5-2, as there are less services)
1 backpack rain cover 

North face hiking boots 
2 pairs of socks (I added a third pair into the mix in León)
3 pairs Patagonia underwear
2 sports bras
1 normal bra (this is an extra, but I missed having something more comfortable last year)
I pair zip-off hiking trousers
1 pair running shorts 
1 cotton skirt
2 REI quick dry, sunscreen t-shirts
1 long sleeve button-up shirt 
1 fleece
1 rain jacket
Flip flops 
1 pair of smart wool leggings (added in León)

Personal care:
Sarong (towel, picnic blanket, scarf...)
Toiletries (small sizes, things that will serve more than one purpose, I buy more as I go)
Small first aid kit (again, just a few things, almost every town has a pharmacy)
Wax earplugs (one night in an albergue and this is obviously a necessity!)
Assortment of vitamins and supplements (I didn’t bring everything I take, but the important ones to keep in my system)
Swiss army tool (very small blade, nail clippers, file, scissors - Gracias to A for this!)
Universal sink plug (helps a lot with laundry)

Buff (headband, eyes cover, scarf...)
Sunglasses + case
Reusable shopping bag (there is enough plastic in the world, including on the Camino!) 
Mini flashlight 
Bed bug spray (an ounce of prevention...)
Journal + pen
Lightweight sleeping bag (.42 kilo)
2 new walking sticks! I liked using them. 
Plastic fork/spoon/knife (one utensil does all 3)
Snacks (weight varies!)

Money belt with passport, cash, cards 
Pilgrim's passport (in a plastic bag)

iPhone + charger + headphones 
Fitbit + charger 
Angkor charger (this is an extra, but I get anxiety when my device runs low)

Yes, I carried all of this every single day!

What you will pack for your Camino will probably vary; it’s actually a very personal process to put together your items. What one person considers essential will be an extra for another and vice versa. 

¡Buen Camino!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Post-Camino Culture Shock

Just a few observations...

1. Riding on a bus! Whoa! So fast! I got back to Santiago in less than two hours... it took me four days to walk to the coast!

The day I walked into Muxia. 

2. Arrows! It takes a long time to re-adjust to seeing arrows in the same way after spying them and following them for 6 weeks. I followed the arrows out of the bus station, and they did, in fact, point to the exit, but it was a wholly automatic reaction. 

It worked again when I was trying to find the post office today. Some readers should check their mail! ;)

3. Clothes! I haven’t thought a lot about what I put on this last month and a half, except for what is dry, clean and warm/cool. Technically, I had a choice everyday of a blue or turquoise top. Everyone in the cities looks so clean and stylish. The shops are overwhelming. Still, I took a little time to buy a new top; I wanted to wear something absolutely clean to travel back to Madrid. I also feel a kindred sense of belonging with the past pilgrims who burned everything and started fresh. (Hiking/athletic clothes are expensive so here’s hoping that some of what I have works for future hikes/pilgrimages.)

Here I am on top of the cathedral in the spot that really signified the end of the pilgrimage - where the pilgrims burned their clothes. 

4. Time. Although I woke up way early (even for a pilgrim), I felt time in a different way today. I lingered over my almond milk café con leche once I got to Santiago since it was raining and I took time to visit the pilgrims museum this morning (I highly recommend it.) and I went back to the cathedral and looked around without the crowds. It was really nice just to wander. 

One last look at Santiago. 

One of the first Camino guidebooks. 

Then and now pilgrim garb.

Art made from pilgrims’ walking sticks. 

I also did the Cathedral Roof tour and I also recommend it! It was so cool to hear the history and see views of the city. You get to go up where most people don’t go, inside the church and right on top of the roof!

View from above. 

Look at me, ma!

The rain stopped just in time for our tour. 

5. Albergues. Albergues are great when we are all more or less on the same routine. I’m at a nice one on the city center today, but it’s so loud... you can tell the Camino is over and that everyone has their own schedule. I definitely recommend staying in the albergues if you do the Camino, but after I’d suggest switching to a pension or hotel. 

I’m in the Primitivo room. :)

Kilometers walked: 13.91 (Fitbit). You know you wanted to know! ;)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Day 44: Lires - Muxia

Once upon a time I started the Camino... and today I finished walking! There is no where left to go, I walked to Santiago, then the sea at the end of the world and now along the end of the world’s coast. Muxia is gorgeous in a wind blown, wild and less visited kind of way. 

But, first I had to get here... my internal alarm dinged just before 7 and I was awake. I did some stretching in bed and then gathered my things so I could pack up outside of the shared room. I went downstairs for coffee at 7:30 and happily sipped my americano, caught up with friends and family on the wonderful what’s app technology and ate some of my gluten free bread with strawberry jam. The television showed the news and it was all bad. I lingered as there was no reason to leave in the dark (sunrise is almost at 9 now). 

Around 8:20 the sky was dark blue so I set off. I gazed at the silvery sliver moon, carefully followed my shells and crossed a bridge leaving town. 

I didn’t take too many pictures to start because I was just really soaking in my last day. 

Storm and fire stories have been in the news, but I saw blue skies and only smelled pine, eucalyptus and farms. I walked and walked, not taking breaks. There are days, and times, when the Camino still feels very hard, my backpack very heavy or my body very tired, even with all my practice. But, I also feel stronger and I know my pace has picked up. 

I ran into a French pilgrim (heading to Finisterre) that I’d stayed with way back in Estella (Day 7). We stopped and chatted about post-Camino plans, the sea and what the way felt like now. We are both ready for the next thing. It’s good! It’s so crazy-cool how you can see someone weeks later and still have a sense of camrederie. 

Turning back towards the ocean has not lost its charm. 

At this point the Camino begins its descent into Muxia and it is absolutely unbelievably beautiful. 

Coming into town. 

I thought I would stay at one more Municipal Albergue, but it wasn’t open at noon as I passed, I thought I would have a coffee and a wander and head back, but then I remembered H’s recommendation from a few days earlier. I happily checked in to a private albergue in the center of town, received my Muxia Compostela certificate and visited the grocery store. I made a salad and some rice here and then it was nap time. 

Raquel, my backpack, next to my bed. This place is great - individual charging stations and night stands, privacy curtains and lockers. And they even let you use a real towel!

Wandering around Muxia is a great end to Camino life. The sea breeze, chilled out vibe and smiles from fellow pilgrims all add to the town’s atmosphere. 

First entering town:

The harbor:

Seaside street:

More boots and beaches:

Rain has blown in this afternoon, so I’ve had some time for writing, music and relaxing at the albergue. The scene has really changed. I am on the Coast of Death at the end of the world; it seems appropriate that the weather turn dark. Despite the clouds, rain and wind, I set out just before 7 in the evening to walk the last kilometer out to the edge of it all; I’m from Seattle!, rain won’t stop me, I thought. 

The beginning of the climb up:

The weather didn’t stop me, but it was fierce! I made my way carefully, following the arrows along the path and then rocks. 

They went past the cemetery. 

I saw a dog eating some chicken bones that someone had left and it stopped me. I realized it had been a long time since I saw a stray. 

I made it to the top of the hill and looked back at Muxia. Same town, but different look! And, the dog had followed me! He seemed to know where to go, we kept moving closer towards the coast. 

Laughing in the wind and rain; what else do you do?!?

The path evened out, and, well, became an actual path again. I followed my doggy guide. 

We saw the sites:

An amazing church stands out there:

And I took one last picture of the lighthouse before I started fearing for my phone’s wellbeing. I was drenched!

I zipped my precious in my raincoat pocket and hurried back to town and my albergue. 

Dinner at the albergue, using the dryer, catching up on the phone with Y and a little planning for tomorrow followed. Tomorrow: Santiago, Thursday: Madrid, Friday: Málaga!!!

I have at least two more Camino blogs to write (what I packed, the differences between the French and Original ways), but entry 44 ends this creative project on 17/10/17, 6 weeks after it started. I do like numbers. Thank you again to all my readers and to everyone who helped me get to the Camino. I hope you will experience it, too, one day. 

Buen camino a todos. 

Kilometers walked: 21.45 (Fitbit), 15.7 (Guidebook from the pilgrim office in Santiago). I walked all over town and out to the lighthouse and back. :)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Day 43: Finisterre - Lires

I fell asleep and woke up to one of the best sounds in the world: the rolling waves. My room with a view:

It seems that my pilgrim days keep starting later and later... breakfast at the hotel, a stop at the pharmacy and a little shopping at the supermarket all happened before I began the last leg of this Camino: Finisterre - Muxia. I started to make my way out of town. 

Oh, and I also had to find the Camino. As I’ve said before, it can be tricky to catch the route as you leave a town or city. And the sun and sea and sky can be distracting...

The extra challenge this time is that some pilgrims walk Finisterre - Muxia like I am and others do it in reverse. Locals were friendly when I asked directions and I followed their cues until I saw the signs. Does this one count?

Here we go!

And there are moments when arrows indicate both directions! Pay attention!

The walk today was beautiful, quaint country roads, forests with lots of eucaliptis and plenty of panoramic views of the sea. 


I had started late and I took a rest stop at one of those cute and quirky places you only find on the Camino. 

I decided to stop in Lires today, dividing my Camino in half and taking one more day to arrive to Muxia. Some pilgrims do it in one day, but that’s 29-33 k, depending on which guide you believe. ;)
Below: arriving to Lires. 

The albergue is modern and has an ocean view!

Tomorrow really will be my last day of walking the Camino. I have mixed feelings about transitioning into post-Camino life - I’ve been here a long time; it’s home. But, I also feel ready for new adventures, my body is ready to relax (I took a nap again today!) and all my Camino friends and family have moved on. Some were long goodbyes, some were goodbyes that we didn’t realize were the last goodbyes and there are a few to whom I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye. Two quotes I remembered while walking today, from very different artists, were: “Be good with goodbyes” (AWOLNATION) and “Accept loss forever” (Jack Kerouac). They seem to be saying the same thing. Change is the only constant. After spending some time making train and air bnb reservations this afternoon, I know I also have some sweet reunions coming soon. 

Kilometers walked: 15.05 (Fitbit), 13.3 (Guidebook from the pilgrim office in Santiago).